Carbohydrates to choose for health and performance

When I say “carb” what do you think of?




These are the answers I hear most often. Usually for health conscious clients, they come in with a negative connotation associated with these words. They expect to be told to cut these out of the diet to have a healthy life.

Put your mind at ease, the dietitian in me says “No! Don’t eliminate carb!” and the Sports Dietitian in me says “Heck no! Eat plenty of carbs!”

When I think of carbs I’m actually thinking of the nutrient “carbohydrate”. Shortened, we call this “carb” but it has mentally morphed into a category consisting of a white, nutrient poor food for much of the health conscious world.

Carbohydrate is an energy source produced by plants turning sun into usable energy. However, as humans we have to take that a step further and turn the carbohydrate, through several biological processes, into usable energy within the human body. We call these usable forms of energy ATP. Note, however, that often when we think of needing energy we are thinking of movement or feeling “energetic”. Energy is needed for cellular processes involved in thinking, waste management, and organ function.

Sources of quality, nutrient dense carbohydrates should be varied in the diet and food groups should only be eliminated if an allergy or intolerance is confirmed.

Some healthy high carb food sources to choose include:

  • Fruit (No, not an unhealthy food because of sugar.)
  • Vegetables (Fiber is actually a carbohydrate.)
  • Milk and yogurt (Plant based dairy substitutes may not actually have much carb so while it can fulfill other nutrition needs, read the label to see what it actually contains.)
  • “Starchy vegetables” like corn, potatoes, peas, and beans.

Did you know carbohydrates come in foods in a few different forms?

It is worth reinforcing what we probably have heard in high school health and human bio classes: carbohydrates come in a few structures. Simple carbohydrates include lactose, maltose, glucose, sucrose, fructose, and high fructose corn syrup. These are found in both whole, natural foods (like dairy products and fruits)and in refined forms (like the sugars in our drinks and desserts). Complex carbohydrates include fibers and starches. We find fiber and starch in foods like beans, legumes, grains, and potatoes.

So what if I cut out carbs?

We miss out on opportunities for some crucial vitamins and minerals if we cut out carbohydrate containing foods!

  • Vitamin C: Found in fruits and veggies like citrus, strawberries, green peppers, brussels sprouts, and even baked potatoes! Vitamin C helps with iron absorption and aids as an enzymatic reaction in collagen synthesis in the body (which means strengthening of bones, tendons, and other connective tissue).
  • Vitamin K: Main sources include leafy greens like spinach and kale as well as cruciferous veggies like brussels sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli. This vitamin helps clot blood when we have a cut.
  • Folate: Hefty sources of folate include asparagus, spinach, enriched grains, as well as oranges, brussels sprouts, and peas. Though you can get folate from organ meat (meaning liver!) most of us don’t really include that in our diets.
  • Calcium: Though we can get calcium from sardines, oysters, and clams, most of us don’t routinely include those in our diets. Other carb-containing calcium sources include yogurt, milk, cottage cheese, and cooked greens. You can also find it in tofu but check the label to make sure it’s enriched.
  • And don’t forget, fiber itself which can’t be found in animal products, is a nutrient with the unique role to fuel our beneficial bacteria.

If you have questions about how much carb is right for you and which carbohydrate containing foods to eat for your health or performance goals, check in with your registered dietitian.

One You Nutrition dietitian Courtney Hager believes all of us should be fueled for whatever adventure awaits us.

I’m Courtney Hager, one of the registered dietitians from One You Nutrition LLC. I am an endurance sports addict and love to learn about how the body and mind use nutrition to help us perform. I’d love to hear from you so leave a comment, subscribe to our newsletters, or better yet, set up a call with me to chat about your nutrition goals!

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